Mantel talks about the former Tory PM, and why Jeremy Corbyn is no Robespierreby Sameer Rahim / September 17, 2015 / Leave a comment
Hilary Mantel has been widely praised for her Tudor novels following the life of Thomas Cromwell: Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies both won the Man Booker Prize. (She is currently writing the concluding part of the trilogy The Mirror and the Light.) On Wednesday, she was nominated for the BBC National Short Story Award for her story “The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher.” The story, which caused controversy in some sections of the media when it was published at the end of last year, is set on 6th August 1983, and imagines an IRA shooter tricking his way into the house of a woman in Windsor, in preparation for killing the Conservative Prime Minister. Over the course of their conversation, the IRA man and his unwilling hostess (who is of Irish descent) discuss their mutual loathing of Thatcher and the morality of political violence. I spoke to Mantel about why Thatcher remains such a potent figure in British politics, what she thinks of Jeremy Corbyn and whether there are similarities between Irish republican terrorism and today’s Islamist terrorism.
Sameer Rahim: At the end of last year, The Daily Telegraph were about to publish your story “The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher” but pulled it at the last minute because they considered it too hot. Did you think at the time that it was going to be so controversial?
Hilary Mantel: Yes, I did. But I didn’t expect that to happen because I assumed that the Telegraph had also taken on board how controversial it was going to be—and that they had decided to take a risk on it. But it looks as if actually they hadn’t made that assessment until the last minute.
SR: Did you feel disappointed or let down?
HM: I just felt surprised, that’s all. It seemed as though there had been a communication failure somewhere along the line.
SR: Re-reading the story, it seems to me that you were simply treating Margaret Thatcher as you would any other character in your historical fiction—Henry VIII in Wolf Hall or Robespierre in A Place of Greater Safety. Why do think it caused so much upset?
HM: Well, in some ways it is opaque to me. But I know, obviously, she is a polarising figure and although she’s no longer…